MARKSVILLE -- Family members of a deputy city marshal charged in the killing of a 6-year-old boy during a pursuit last month claimed Thursday that the child’s father caused the death by fleeing authorities and argued there was a rush to judgment because the officers are black and the victims white.
The deputy marshal and Marksville police officer, Derrick Stafford, has been jailed since his arrest in last month. He appeared in court Thursday, asking a judge to reduce his $1 million bail.
But state District Judge William Bennett refused to cut the bail despite testimony from Stafford’s friends and relatives that they’d only been able to scrape together about $150,000 in property to secure the officer’s release. Bennett said reducing bail to that amount would be “totally unreasonable.”
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Stafford’s wife and aunt said that Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr., the other deputy marshal arrested in the shooting, fired into Christopher Few’s vehicle in self-defense.
Stafford, 32, and Greenhouse, 24, were indicted last week with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the shooting death of Jeremy Mardis, the 6-year-old, as well as the wounding of Few, his father, at the end of the Nov. 3 car pursuit. The pair were moonlighting as deputy marshals the night of the shooting. Stafford was a full-time Marksville police lieutenant, while Greenhouse had left the city police department and had been working as a deputy marshal in nearby Alexandria.
While much about what precipitated the shooting remains unclear, State Police have said that three deputy marshals on patrol chased Few for some blocks before pinning his car in. The officers were out of their cars, while Few was inside his, at the time they fired at the driver’s side window, police have said.
Bertha Andrews, Stafford’s aunt, said her nephew had acted in self-defense in the shooting, alleging that Few had tried to run over Greenhouse in the moments before the deputy marshals opened fire. She said that Few, who ran from the officers, should be blamed for the incident.
“He’s the one that is responsible for his son’s death. If he hadn’t tried to run over Norris Greenhouse, this wouldn’t even be,” Andrews said. “They had no knowledge of that baby being in the car, they were just trying to defend themselves.”
Assistant Attorney General John Sinquefield said he wouldn’t address the facts of the case and declined to address the family members’ assertions that the officers acted in self-defense.
Whether or not the officers had a reasonable basis to fear for their lives is a critical question when law enforcement officials fire their weapons in the line of duty. An on-duty Marksville police officer who also showed up at the scene, wearing a body camera, told State Police he didn’t fire his weapon because he “didn’t fear for his life,” an arrest report said.
That report, released last week, says the video from the body camera showed Few had his “empty hands raised and visible when gunfire becomes audible.”
Brittany Stafford, who testified during the bond hearing, said race played a role in the arrest of her husband three days after the shooting.
“If his skin color was Caucasian he wouldn’t have been arrested. If Chris Few and his son had been black there wouldn’t have been any of this,” she said.
Andrews also blasted the Marksville Police Department and Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, which handled the investigation, saying the law enforcement agencies had rushed to judgment and turned their backs on fellow officers. Contrasting the handling of the Marksville case with other high-profile police shootings in the last several years, Andrews said authorities had rushed the investigation — at least partly because of the race of those involved.
“This one has been much quicker,” she said. “This was done in three days.”
Jonathan Goins, Stafford’s attorney, who last week said that the race of the officers contributed to their swift arrests and negative portrayal in the media, declined to address the issue Thursday.
“I want to stick with the facts as they are,” Goins said. “Race won’t exonerate my client.”
Edmonson strongly denied that race had influenced the investigation of the shooting or played a role in his agency’s decision to arrest Greenhouse and Stafford, calling the those claims “absolutely untrue.”
“It saddens me that someone would bring up race because that’s not at all how we operate,” Edmonson said. “We investigate each case individually and deal strictly with the facts.”
The FBI participated in the State Police’s investigation of the shooting, Edmonson said Thursday, with federal agents sitting in on a number of interviews and reviewing the body camera footage alongside state investigators. A copy of the tape was turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lafayette last Friday at the request of the FBI, Edmonson said, but there is currently no separate federal probe into the incident.
During the hearing on Thursday morning, a number of friends and relatives, including several who’d agreed to pledge their homes toward Stafford’s bail, took the stand to describe the officer as conscientious, kind and hard-working. They argued he’d pose no risk of flight if let out of jail.
Bennett, in denying the request, said that releasing Stafford could pose a danger to the officer himself and the community and said he believed that police officers should “be held in a higher duty to obey the law.” Bennett added that he was aware of threats that had been made against both the defendants and the court in the case.
The judge also noted the evidence against the officers includes three eyewitnesses — two of them fellow law-enforcement officers — and “direct evidence via a body camera worn by another officer.”
Greenhouse’s family was able to arrange a property bond for his release just before Thanksgiving, although first Bennett had to rule that the deputy marshal’s attorney father was allowed to post the bail on behalf of his son despite a state law prohibiting lawyers from putting up money or property for bail.
Jeremy’s grandmothers, Cathy Mardis and Samantha Few, declined to speak with reporters. George Higgins, an attorney for Greenhouse who attended the hearing, also declined to comment.
During the hearing, Goins argued the $1 million bail figure — the largest ever set in Avoyelles Parish — “is almost commensurate with having no bail at all” because Stafford’s family lacked the means to pull together such a large sum.
“I know he’s a good boy,” said his mother, Diane Stafford, who broke down in tears after the hearing and had to be comforted by her pastor, the Rev. Melvin Jackson, who also testified on Stafford’s behalf.
Stafford, wearing a black suit with his handles and ankles shackled, testified during the hearing about his 10-year career in law enforcement, his ties to the community and about his family’s inability to put together enough property to post bail. He was not asked about the shooting.
Stafford, who has no criminal convictions on his record, was asked about a 2011 indictment in Rapides Parish on two counts of aggravated rape, charges that were later dropped. Although Stafford’s attorney called the charges “mere allegations,” Bennett said he also considered the previous indictment in deciding against reducing Stafford’s bail.